HNV farming in the North Pennines
The North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and Global Geopark is a distinctive landscape of high moorland and broad upland dales in the North of England. One of the most remote and unspoilt places in England, it lies between the National Parks of the Yorkshire Dales and Northumberland, with the former West Durham Coalfield to the east and the Eden Valley to the west. The AONB contains 40% of the UK's upland hay meadows, 30% of England's upland heathland and 27% of its blanket bog and 80% of England's black grouse as well as key sites for arctic alpine plants and 22,000 pairs of breeding waders.
As part of a wider HNV farming collaboration across the Northern Upland Chain Local Nature Partnership , EFNCP and Cumulus Consultants were commissioned by the North Pennines Area of Natural Beauty (AONB) partnership to carry out research to:
- collate and summarise relevant information and data for three HNV farming areas within the North Pennines AONB;
- interview a representative sample of farmers from within each of the three areas;
- identify 'pinch points' or barriers where the existing situation is not working, for example in terms of biodiversity conservation or farm economics;
- arrange a seminar for farmers to seek their views on the information gathered and proposed recommendations;
- compile and summarise all findings into a format suitable for inclusion in a wider project report for the Northern Upland Chain Local Nature Partnership.
The research focussed on three areas of the AONB - Upper Weardale, Upper Tynedale and Upper Teesdale - totalling around 100 km2 or about 5% of the AONB area. These areas were selected as they support some of the best examples of North Pennines habitats and their associated wildlife, which in turn are known to be associated with traditional, low intensity farming.
Having interviewed around two dozen farmers and drawn interim conclusions, the team held a meeting where these were presented back to the farmers:
The final report concluded that if 'viable HNV farming' is to be a meaningful phrase, the system must remain rational to the farmer, whether from the social, economic or agronomic perspective.
Against this background and in the light of the very high levels of ecosystem services which the area continues to provide, there were a number of concerns arising from the farmer interviews:
Confusion in agri-environment; a move away from the voluntary approach
Messages from Government had in the past been very definite but in some cases had turned out at worst completely misguided or at best confused. While farmers generally felt that there was more flexibility in the latest schemes, many still felt themselves to be in a weak position relative to the field officer, and the need for better understanding between farmers and field officers was clear.
Poor 'outcomes' for farmer and conservationist
There seems to be agreement that though there have been some positives, things have moved in an unfavourable direction from both the agricultural and ecological perspective in many cases. Botanical quality is reported to be declining on many fields, while farmers complained of loss of both forage quality and quantity in their grass crop or on their fell pastures.
Lack of consideration of the farming system; lack of appreciation of farmer knowledge
There seems to be a lack of consideration of the farming system and of the need for it to function in an ecologically and agronomically rational way at the same time. We noted the lack of mutual understanding of the 'visions' a farmer and a field officer might have for the same field. There are dangers in addressing the management of certain parcels independently of the system - all must fit together in an integrated whole. Greater appreciation of and consideration for the logic and needs of the farming system must be linked to a greater appreciation of the farmer's skills and knowledge.
No consideration of farm-scale economics
Economic pressures have led many of the farmers to follow quite high-risk paths to increase their net incomes. An interviewee said that there is a price to be paid for being a HNV farmer. His implication was that that price was being paid not by the State, but by the farmer. Government does not seem to be considering whether the FBI of farmers delivering a range of ecosystem services and public goods for which there is no normal market is adequate, or even whether their reward per hour is above the minimum wage.
Some payments are available without any substantial activity or the incurring of significant costs by the claimant and are thus easily detached from farming per se. The implications of such flexibility for regions and systems where the delivery of public goods is dependent on at least some sort of coupling with agricultural activity does not seem to have been thought through.
Lack of joined-up wider policy
We found a perception of wider policy incoherence - planning rules, changing fashions on apprenticeships, animal movement rules and the weaknesses of regional policy all contribute to weakening the social and economic infrastructure within which HNV farming operates, including that of the wider rural community in the area.
Lack of independent advice
In a confusing and complex policy environment, the availability of easily-accessible, reliable, good-value independent advice is essential for the farmer.
The report made recommendations for action, only summarised here. These were at three scales - some should be carried out locally at local initiative; others, while they are best carried out locally, should ideally fit within a national framework. Some changes can only be implemented nationally, but the AONB, hopefully strengthened by an ever-improving relationship with local farmers, should be able to make informed comments on Government proposals on a range of issues.
- At the local level
- Building trust: a North Pennines Farming Forum
- Building trust: training of conservation professionals by farmers
- Building trust: building bridges on understanding Favourable Conservation Status
- Building trust: raising the positive profile of farming
- Strengthening farming communities: encouraging collaboration
- Strengthening farming communities: the planning process
- Locally, within a national framework
- " Building trust: delivering Favourable Conservation Status through collaboration
- Independent advice provision
- Informing national policy: developing quantified case studies at system and field level
- Preparing for future Payment for Ecosystem Services schemes
- At the national level
- Improving policy: rewarding activity, disincentivising inactivity
- Improving policy: improving agri-environment and other rural development delivery
- Other issues